How to Motivate Without going Overboard

Normally when a baseball coach goes out to the mound during a highly-pressured moment, there’s not much fanfare. Perhaps he is just trying to buy some time, or talk over strategy.

The other day, a “mound visit” flashed across my computer screen in the form of a viral video. In this particular instance, the coach told his pitcher he loved him, then added a, “Hey! Cheer up! Have some fun.”

It was the Little League World Series, and you couldn’t help but feel the heart strings being pulled in eight different directions, as a father reminded us all why we do what we do as parents. As it turns out—you don’t need a magical cornfield in Iowa to understand that sports can bond parent and child, while also creating lifelong memories and lessons.

But how best to teach those lessons?

Do we financially incentivize our kids—score a hat trick, get a new stick? It doesn’t exactly scream teamwork, selflessness and sacrifice.

For Syracuse National AAA Girls hockey coach Kevin Ahern, it’s always dad first and coach second.

“It’s not about what I say, rather it’s about creating experiences that have the potential to motivate,” says Ahern.

Those positive experiences might include a trip to a local pro game, locker room visits or attending a camp at a college.

As tempting as it may be, Ahern strongly advises parents to steer clear of car coaching.

“It’s so dangerous,” Ahern says. “We dwell on all the negatives, and that is what is in our young athlete’s mind that they will equate with their performance, some to the point of not wanting to play anymore.”

Even if it “kills him” Ahern picks out the positives of his daughters’ games and then days later on the way to practice, may slip in a few things to work on.

For Ahern’s wife, Darcy, it’s important to leave lines of communication open for any type of conversation or venting, and she’s careful not to fuel any fires.

“We don’t talk about what others are doing. We focus on them and what they have within their power to improve or change,” she says. “Motivation has to come from within the player, not the parent.”

Kids are motivated by learning and having fun. Things can get pretty mucked up with expectations, politics and external pressure—all adult themes. After all, Kevin Costner didn’t build his backyard ballpark to work on his fastball; he just wanted to have a catch with his dad.

Kelly Clymer

Age: 57


In 1968, Kelly Clymer was one of just a handful of kids playing youth hockey in Dallas.

That love of the game has stayed with Clymer, who was recently named the coach-in-chief for Texas and Oklahoma.

After his son took to the ice for the first time, Clymer made the leap from player to coach. And long after his son has graduated from the game, Clymer is still on the bench.

“I just haven’t been able to leave…I just keep going,” he says.

Clymer focuses not only on teaching on-ice skills. He also makes sure that his players know what they need to succeed off the ice, such as the importance of being on time and regularly attending class.

Having the opportunity to impact his players is an honor Clymer embraces whole-heartedly.

“[One of my old players] sent me this note saying, ‘You’re a huge mentor in my life and I’m forever indebted,’” Clymer recalls.

“That’s my payback for what I do.”

By Christie Casciano Burns

Illustration By Darren Gygi




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